New York

Billy Apple

Howard Wise Gallery

Billy Apple’s U.F.O.’s (Unidentified Fluorescent Objects) at the Howard Wise Gallery launch us into ostensibly new rainbowed realms. In a flash of technical wizardry these flickering, whirling, pulsing and buzzing missiles surround the viewer with an eerily brilliant fantasy. Their impact is dulled, however, for anyone who is familiar with Times Square, which seems to have beaten Mr. Apple to the punch, and a few decades in advance of him, at that. The quivering vapors within the glass rods and spirals tend to become too associated with the commercial neon signs which are their predecessors. Since they are not quite commercial in their configurations, but still retain that physical skin, they end up looking like just so much novelty instead. That they hover in a more rarefied space than most signs, is only incidental. When the buildings in Times Square are hidden by darkness, the neons there are often just as disembodied as Mr. Apple’s.

The bright tubing is drawn into seven differently shaped pieces: a teardrop, a kite, an arrow-chevron, a spiral disc with a tail, two “saucers,” and a missile-like capsule. Although these forms are not the most original in themselves, the electric palette which Apple has literally invented is truly luscious. In this respect, he is certainly the most extravagant of the light artists who have shown at the Wise Gallery recently. He mixes neon, argon and mercury vapor into combinations which can be crisply fluorescent or pale and soft-edge in effect. The teardrop is filled out with shocking pink, lemon yellow, and “Apple” green. Other typical combinations are white/tangerine/mercury blue/ruby, or violet-pink stripe/orchid/ and mint green.

The kite, dervish and arrow, which throb and blurp less than some of the other pieces, have an almost hallucinatory presence. They are passive, compared to the more kinetically activated tubes, but because they simply hang there, silently radiating color, they are more compelling, even iconic, as a result. Unfortunately, city electrical restrictions necessitated the use of heavily insulated wiring to attach the U.F.O.’s to the ceiling. The rubber tubes were so obvious and unavoidable (like evil tentacles grabbing at the fragile glass rods) that they often destroyed the illusion of suspension, at least for the more literal minded! Dayglo lithographs of the teardrop shape, done in variations of the neon scheme, completed the show on a more down to earth note.

––Emily Wasserman